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(Arts & Entertainment Section, Sunday paper)

The enduring appeal and controversy of Ayn Rand

Carlin Romano

Romano, a distinguished literary critic, examines the controversy surrounding Ayn Rand and her movement, centering on the Showtime movie, "The Passion of Ayn Rand."

In the article, Romano cites Mimi Gladstein, coeditor of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, who calls Rand "an extremely courageous thinker and writer who basically went against the mainstream of American literature and philosophy. . . . Though her philosophy is dismissed by the academic establishment and her novels deprecated by belles-lettres critics," Gladstein wrote in a 1995 article on Rand for The Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States, "her ideas have wide-ranging influence.  A 1991 survey by the Library of Congress found Atlas Shrugged second only to the Bible in a list of books that most influenced readers' lives." 

"However," states Romano, "1995 also saw the publication of the first scholarly study of Rand published by a respected university press, Ayn Rand:  The Russian Radical (Penn State) by Chris Matthew Sciabarra, a visiting scholar of politics at New York University.   That book has spurred debate on the Internet and elsewhere with its novel claim that Rand, who was born Alissa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg and came to the United States in 1926, is best understood as a thinker whose roots in Russian philosophy and Marxism's dialectical tradition account for the unique syntheses of her later work.  Since then, scholarly attention and interest has significantly blipped, if not boomed . . . The Chronicle of Higher Education, in a recent overview of Rand's place in academe, reported that at least four more books on Rand's thought are on the way . . . as is a journal devoted to Randian . . . studies."

Romano then considers the controversial movement surrounding Ayn Rand, and all the personal squabbles and purges and "ex-communications" that have ensued since 1968.  "At the New York ceremony for the new Rand stamp, according to Sciabarra, Peikoff, Kelley and others politely ignored one another."  For a long time, central attention has been given to Rand's personal life and interpersonal relations.  It may take another generation to appreciate fully her intellectual legacy.  " 'Unfortunately,' Sciabarra concludes, 'probably a whole generation is going to have to die out before this can all be put in perspective.' "

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